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What do you believe regarding free will?


Richard
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What type of free will / lack of is most likely?  

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Yikes. I think that's a horrible way to look at it (I'm not criticising you, just stating my opinion on the viewpoint), and very psych'ish - I always felt they had the worst outlook on life & mankind. The majority of them never look happy either lol, which to me is reason enough to dig elsewhere for my life questions. No proof of a spiritual being? Hogwash. That's what happens when someone uses faulty/inferior methods to find something not of the physical universe, which funny enough is him/herself.

 

I am curious as to why you chose to subscribe to that viewpoint though.

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You know, at first I selected free will, but after reading Richard's last post it got me thinking to how one can be a statistician/social scientist (which I am) and not believe in some form of determinism, when all I do most days is crunch numbers to look at the probability of X happening.

 

I'm a pretty die-hard atheist, so I certainly don't believe in a life force or a spirit or anything like that, but I do believe that certain choices we made in the past do influence the likelihood of what will happen to us in the present and future. Is that determinism? I don't know, I'm just thinking (typing?) out loud.

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Yikes. I think that's a horrible way to look at it (I'm not criticising you, just stating my opinion on the viewpoint), and very psych'ish - I always felt they had the worst outlook on life & mankind. The majority of them never look happy either lol, which to me is reason enough to dig elsewhere for my life questions. No proof of a spiritual being? Hogwash. That's what happens when someone uses faulty/inferior methods to find something not of the physical universe, which funny enough is him/herself.

 

I am curious as to why you chose to subscribe to that viewpoint though.

 

It seems most likely given what I know. I had the notion explained to me years ago. I haven't heard any convincing evidence against determinism, and haven't heard any convincing evidence for anything else - except the feeling of free will that we experience.

 

But our feelings and perceptions are not to be trusted, there are all kinds of "illusions" that can seem real until we understand them. For instance if you are down the street from a car, and you hold your hand up, the car is smaller than your hand according to your eyes - and as you walk closer to it the car increases in size in your vision. But you know that's not actually happening, that's just how perspective is interpreted by our eyes. Likewise, there are optical illusions that make things seem like they are spinning, even if it's a static pattern, we can be fooled. If you face a wall, and a sound comes from behind you, it rebounds off a wall and seems like it is in front of you, or surrounding you - but with understanding, you know that's just how sound behaves.

 

I believe that feeling as though we are choosing things falls into the area of illision, and is part of evolution. Most likely if everyone in society didn't believe they had a will, things would fall apart. In fact I've read articles on neuroscience where the scientists have actually said that they are concerned about the perceived benefits of sharing evidence of determinism, if it is true as it could do more harm than good potentially if it is believed.

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I do believe that certain choices we made in the past do influence the likelihood of what will happen to us in the present and future.

 

I agree with this, although I would say "can influence" rather than "do".

 

I haven't heard any convincing evidence against determinism, and haven't heard any convincing evidence for anything else - except the feeling of free will that we experience.

Ok, fair enough. I would probably think the same way if my life hadn't taken a dramatic turn for the best when it was "destined" to fail very early on. One could argue that clearly it wasn't, but I strongly disagree. Problem is, even if I explained the dramatic turn of events & how it convinced me that free will is the case, I could never properly convey what experiencing it is like. It could be due to my lack of vocabulary for this subject, or perhaps that I don't have a masters degree with several books out is enough to convince others that my viewpoint holds little weight.

 

 

But our feelings and perceptions are not to be trusted, there are all kinds of "illusions" that can seem real until we understand them.

I strongly disagree that our feelings and perceptions are not to be trusted. You have some great examples of how one can be wrong, but one can also be right, very often too.

 

This reminds me of a great quote: "What is true for you is what you have observed yourself. And when you lose that you have lost everything." Certainly one can come to the wrong conclusions about what they have perceived or felt but with time & practice, like a muscle, ones ability to correctly perceive/feel and then decipher/act can improve. Also, perception isn't strictly physical but I've tried explaining that to people who don't believe in spirituality to no avail. Again, either my vocabulary is lacking, or I am not held in high enough esteem in their eyes to remotely affect their conclusions.

 

I believe that feeling as though we are choosing things falls into the area of illision
Now this makes me very sad, and I'm honestly sorry you feel this way. Perhaps because when I believed this, I was around my lowest in life & would never wish that upon anyone.

 

In fact I've read articles on neuroscience where the scientists have actually said that they are concerned about the perceived benefits of sharing evidence of determinism, if it is true as it could do more harm than good potentially if it is believed.

 

Which reminds me of another quote lol. "We live in a machine world. The whole yap of television and newspapers is directed toward reducing effort. The primary goal of the civilization in which we live, it seems, is to reduce all personal effort to zero." The way I see it, switch around "television & newspapers" for the conclusion those fellas want to share. I'd like to know how they came to it. I doubt *I* wouldn't find fault in it, or something significant to disagree with.

 

Oh yea, and the best saying of all: "one will find what they are looking for," i.e.: we can all find examples to prove that it's all fate, free will, etc.

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Our perceptions can tell us the truth some of the time. But my point is that the only thing that makes us (or at least, me) think that free will could exist, is our perception of it. Since our perceptions are not to be relied upon on their own, since we know that just because something appears a certain way on face value it isn't proven to be true, you need to look outside that at other evidence to confirm it, and from everything I know on the subject so far, there is no other evidence. Everything science has to say points to determinism that I've come across, most arguments against determinism are in the form of why it's unpleasant to think about and what it would do to society, rather than whether it is factual or not. I am eagerly in search of something which supports free will in a scientific sense, or something which disproves determinism. I'd love it to be the case that determinism is not true, but right now I don't really see how that could be.

 

I'm quite open to somebody proving fate or free will with evidence or a theory, so far I haven't seen one. Determinism stands up to scrutiny for me at this point in time, I could have my mind changed with a more compelling theory. Physics defines everything and everything behaves in a predictable way ultimately, there needs to be evidence of something else happening to change my mind, otherwise it's really just conjecture about something unknowable. To me it doesn't matter if someone's been to university or written a book, it's possible to understand this particular theory on a practical level I think. I've got no qualifications in science outside highschool. But it's just a simple matter of accepting that physics governs all. But I agree that it is a bummer to think about.

 

EDIT: A couple of examples of attempted scientific determinism disproving:

 

1) Subatomic particles appear to move randomly, and no amount of analysis has provided scientists with an explanation of what determines their movements. Some say that this proves that this is the key to free will. This however, is irrelevant for two reasons. Firstly, this random behaviour occurs in all atoms, not just ones in the brain, or even in living beings. Therefore, to say that this grants the brain "free will" is to say that everything else that exists has free will which is crazy. The other thing is that even if you say that this random element could influence things on a larger scale (atoms, cells...) it would still be random. So either everything is random (incorrect), or it lacks influence to sway the predictable cause and effect of physics (correct). So in any case, this theory does not impact determinism.

 

2) If you were to build a machine which had 100% knowledge of every atom in the universe, if determinism is true, it could predict the future. So you can get a test subject to make a choice of A or B at a set time, but have the machine predict beforehand. But, as a twist, you show the prediction to the test subject and instruct them to do the opposite. Therefore the machine is proved wrong, since to get them to pick A, it has to predict B... but if it predicts B it is wrong! Take that computer/determinism! Not so fast. First of all, you could run the same experiment, but instead of a human test subject, you could have a 2nd computer, programmed to do the reverse of what it is predicted. This way it still beats the first computer's prediction, yet you would not say that the test subject computer has free will. So that busts that one. But there is another reason why it doesn't work - even if the predicting computer has to give a "false" prediction to get you to pick A instead of B, you're still acting out a predictable motion. So all this does is prove that such a machine would have paradoxes and would not work, rather than prove anybody has free will.

 

And those two are the only scientific reasons I have come across, and the 2nd one is completely theoretical anyway

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Interesting poll!

 

I was leaning toward determinism with some free will, but it seems too similar to fate to me. Yes, previous behavior is the best way to predict future behavior, and there are things that happen outside of individual control, we are more likely to do certain things based on our genes or surroundings etc, but in the end. ( I'll throw my own quote in by Frank Herbert.)

 

"We are free, because we are morally responsible for everything that we do." - The bottom line is there is no one else to hold accountable for what you do but YOU. If that isn't free will I don't know what is.

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Alternatively, perhaps people are saying that inanimate objects are governed by physics, but things that are "alive" have free will. Kind of murky territory, do bacteria have free will? At what point does something become alive and make genuine choices that affect the universe? What is special about things that are alive in the first place? Given the lack of evidence of a spirit or lifeforce, we are actually just a collection of atoms, which are entirely governed by the laws of physics.

 

The way I personally see things (as I now realise I haven't actually said what I believe) is that there is 100% grindingly predictable determinism. That doesn't mean that a human is equipped to predict anything because the universe is so vast, and the number of things reacting and clashing with each other is completely outside our comprehension. We are made out of cells, which individually cannot be said to have free will. But that's all we are (and as you dissect a cell, you discover even smaller elements also governed by physics, which are reacting without free will).

 

In order to prove that there is free will, in fact you have to prove that in the brain there is activity that does not rely on the laws of physics - there has to be activity that ignores the laws of physics, or controls the laws of physics within the brain. That's not the case though. The laws of physics govern everything that the brain is made of, and therefore the brain itself depends on its parts, and your ability to choose is an illusion. The brain is a physical object after all. I would find free will more convincing if when we open the skull we just find an empty space. Then there would be no evidence of what controls us - and it would be more mysterious. Yet we plainly can see what controls us - the brain.

 

Looks like you have answered your own poll already

 

If this is your definition of 'determinism' then yes, there is no free will, and using that definition of determinism also makes determinism a scientific, irrefutable fact. So you have answered the poll for everyone!

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If this is your definition of 'determinism' then yes, there is no free will, and using that definition of determinism also makes determinism a scientific, irrefutable fact. So you have answered the poll for everyone!

 

I don't think my definition of determinism is unusual, that's what it means. At least "hard determinism", which leaves no room for free will. But I have also found that a logical scientific explanation is not enough to convince most people. To me it does seem irrefutable - until there is evidence of something new. But with our current understanding of physics and matter, I can't see how it could be refuted scientifically. But science doesn't appeal to everyone, as Mina says, some people go through an experience which changes their mind on an emotional level, some would say spiritual. So I think that my definition is very far from convincing anyone who would read it!

 

Others believe that even if everything we are made of is predictable, it doesn't mean that we are, or that "we" are not in control of ourselves. I can't see how that could be, but that's what I generally hear from otherwise rational people

 

So I'd say just because I have a particular answer to the poll doesn't mean I'm not interested in hearing other's opinions! And I'd like to see the results of the poll, even if I don't learn anything new in terms of theories

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Interesting poll!

 

I was leaning toward determinism with some free will, but it seems too similar to fate to me. Yes, previous behavior is the best way to predict future behavior, and there are things that happen outside of individual control, we are more likely to do certain things based on our genes or surroundings etc, but in the end. ( I'll throw my own quote in by Frank Herbert.)

 

"We are free, because we are morally responsible for everything that we do." - The bottom line is there is no one else to hold accountable for what you do but YOU. If that isn't free will I don't know what is.

 

The outcome of fate and determinism is the same, in that there would be no free will. But the difference is how or why things happen. Determinism is a scientific theory based on... well pretty much everything! At a basic level looking at atoms, to studying behaviour, and how physics governs everything. Fate on the other hand is not a theory, rather it's a spiritual or superstitious notion that something else (some kind of god, or something people just refer to as "fate") controls everything and that there is actually a plan that everything is part of. They're not compatible ideas.

 

They're kind of mirrored actually. Determinism states "that happened because of what just happened" and fate says "this will happen in order for that to happen".

 

Regarding that quote, it assumes that we are responsible for everything we do. I don't assume that in the first instance, and I don't see evidence of it. Assuming that we are responsible already assumes determinism to be false. But if I don't assume anything and look at the facts from the ground up, I don't find room for free will, and therefore "responsibility".

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Thank you for clarifying the two.

 

Someone can say they aren't responsible for what they do all they want, but will still be held accountable for their decisions. It doesn't matter whether or not someone was fated or determined to pull the trigger, they did it, they had a choice, and made one. I don't see the practical difference between the two beliefs in our current world.

 

I'm not certain reality can be completely predicted by our current understanding of science, especially my own. If you have a link to an article that talks about it more, though, I'd love to read it.

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Thank you for clarifying the two.

 

Someone can say they aren't responsible for what they do all they want, but will still be held accountable for their decisions. It doesn't matter whether or not someone was fated or determined to pull the trigger, they did it, they had a choice, and made one. I don't see the practical difference between the two beliefs in our current world.

 

I'm not certain reality can be completely predicted by our current understanding of science, especially my own. If you have a link to an article that talks about it more, though, I'd love to read it.

 

Determinism and fate mean that there is no choice in what we do, therefore "we" are not responsible. If there is only ever 1 thing that can happen, then there was nothing else that could happen, there would be no responsibility. My belief doesn't begin with "there is no responsibility" - my belief begins with "what is happening, why do things happen the way they do?" and all the way down the, physics is responsible. It's after realising / accepting that that I realised that there can't be responsibility if that's true.

 

Determinism isn't about humans being able to predict what they or anyone else is going to do. It just means that there is only one thing that could happen in any given scenario, that our brains function on a (very complicated) input and output. So when I say "predictable", I certainly don't mean that I could predict to any degree what will happen because the amount of information necessary to make a prediction is way beyond what a human can even fit in their head let alone process

 

For instance, if you take a dumptruck and fill it with ping pong balls and empty it over a cliff - you could not predict the path of all of those ping pong balls because it's too much data (sheer number of balss, wind, density of the ground, imperfections in every ball, anything else which might intervene...). But, you also know that there could only be one outcome, because everything is being determined by the laws of physics. If you were able to reproduce that experiment exactly, with every little detail the same, you would expect the same results. Also important to note, even if you don't understand every little detail, you do know the rules, and you can watch the event and say "Yes, that's what I expected, they all went down and bounced around". That's pretty much all a human can appreciate, but we would be surprised if the balls suddenly took off or caught fire for no apparent reason.

 

Determinism says that we are just as theoretically predictable, even if it's beyond our comprehension, our "choices" are made in the same way that those ping pong balls fall - initially you would say "well, those balls could go anywhere, I don't know" - but thinking about it, you know that there's only one thing that could happen with each ball, even if you personally don't know what that is.

 

Without appearing to be "name dropping", there is an article by Stephen Hawking in which he says he doesn't see how there could be free will:

 

http://amiquote.tumblr.com/post/2318471636/stephen-hawking-on-free-will-do-people-have-free

 

Most articles on the subject seem to be needlessly complex, and bring in all kinds of philosophy and are a chore to read...

 

This is quite a concise and easy to understand video (even if the guy seems to be a serial killer of some kind)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KEZKIV8TzuM

 

He sums up pretty much everything there, but to be frank I've already said everything he says in this thread.

 

When I was first introduced to determinism (though didn't know it was called that at the time) I rejected it and was actually offended. Determinism means that along with everything else, there's no such thing as creativity or originality. Personality is just how you are, there's nothing to be praised for, no such thing as achievement... and so on. It seemed quite hurtful because I was always very proud of what I did, and so to think that I didn't "deserve" praise for it seemed outrageous. Beyond this, it almost makes one feel like they don't "exist" - if you don't have free will, then you can't choose anything, you are just reacting. I would get in arguments with my bro (who told me about it) saying things to him like "My brain controls my actions, but I'm in control of my brain!". I now realise that's a nonsense statement, for what am "I", if not just a body and a brain? Not being spiritual at all, I can't see room for anything else, so if the brain is a physical object, it is defined by physics like everything else.

 

Once I stopped looking at it on a personal level, and realised that I am made of the same things as everything else in the universe, it humbled me and put everything in perspective. Those building blocks cannot be said to have free will, and I'd say that anything made up of them has no free will by definition. So what makes "me" special? I am just another bunch of atoms in a ridiculously huge universe. Why would we be able to have an effect over the laws of physics which govern every single other thing in the universe (as far as we know). It became apparent to me that it was more than a little self-centred to reject the theory on the grounds that I was. I was able to look at things without that personal bias, and accept the scientific and logical evidence, despite the feeling of free will that I experience.

 

TL:DR - If physics control everything in a predictable way, and your brain is not predictable, then it must be doing something which breaks the laws of physics, which there is no evidence of.

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